From grass to glory: Golden memories built at Mondello

From grass to glory: Golden memories built at Mondello
A young fan blocks his ears as the bikes fly past at Mondello Park. Picture: Inpho/Andrew Paton

Muhammad Ali in Croke Park in 1972. Pele and Santos down the road in Dalymount Park the same year. 

The famous Santry Mile won by Olympic champion Herb Elliott in ’58. The All Blacks in Limerick 20 years later...

Just some of the memorable moments when little old Ireland was graced by international sporting royalty. 

So many of these events have been preserved in books, plays and documentaries. 

Others have sat neglected on the sidelines through the years, among them Ayrton Senna’s visit to Mondello Park in 1982 when the Brazilian — still using his dad’s name of da Silva at the time — showed his burgeoning class in Co Kildare.

Senna isn’t the only superstar to have navigated his way around the track. James Hunt, Jackie Stewart, Mika Häkkinen, Rubens Barrichello, Emerson Fittipaldi and motorcycling legend Mike Hailwood all hared around its tight bends and yet who outside the country’s small community of petrolheads ever knew?

Mondello translates as ‘Little World’ and it’s hard to think of a more apposite name for a facility that has served as the centre of the universe for Irish motorsport since 1968.

RTÉ will screen an hour-long documentary on the track this Bank Holiday Monday at 6.30pm. 

Golden Mondello — From Grass to Glory takes the viewer through its 51-year history, highlights its significance and lays bare the love affair that so many people have with the place and the sport itself.

“The sound of the engines is just in your blood. It’s weird.”

That’s Grainne O’Carroll, the documentary’s producer.

Grainne’s infatuation with all this was unavoidable given her dad Michael was the man who, via his work with RTÉ, first brought motorsport to Irish screens. Mondello was a second home.

The project that brought this film about was prompted by Martin Birrane, the Mayo-born, English-based businessman who rescued the place from financial disaster in 1985 and turned it into a facility capable of hosting every motor racing event you can imagine, short of Formula 1.

Birrane wanted the piece to accompany the track’s 50th birthday last year, but his sudden passing at the age of 82 was among the reasons why production instead extended towards the two-year mark. 

The fact those involved were working on it in their spare time as a labour of love was another.

The O’Carrolls were obvious candidates, director Stephen Vickers is a racing fanatic, and even Nicola Watkins, who is responsible for the press and publicity, is a petrolhead who has suited up and tested her racing skills at the venue. 

That passion has been tested more than once in getting this past the finish line. One of the film’s many strengths is the archive footage, but it wasn’t easy to find.

With RTÉ currently digitising their archives from the mid-1980s through to the late ’90s, they had to look high and low for alternatives, and old contacts such as John Fitzpatrick and Oliver McCrossan came up trumps time and again. 

The footage of the track’s opening day in 1968 is superb. Among the reels is a shot of a priest in full vestments showering the tarmac with holy water. 

Another find was a clip of the diggers as they worked on converting the 110 acres of farmland into a circuit worthy of the name.

“Some of the stuff came in and we were squealing,” says O’Carroll.

From grass to glory: Golden memories built at Mondello

Maybe the hardest find was a photo from the 1980s of five Irish drivers — David Kennedy, John Watson, Derek Daly, Michael Roe and Kenny Acheson — who were competing at Le Mans in the same year. 

Kennedy assured O’Carroll it existed, and it was finally found in the Dublin attic of a man called Russell Murphy. 

All of those drivers served apprenticeships at Mondello. So did the legendary Tommy Byrne and Eddie Jordan, among others. 

If this documentary achieves nothing else, then it will highlight the stream of talent propelled towards F1 and other racing heights by the venue.

“What Mondello has done for Irish sport, not just for motor racing but for Irish sport and its folklore, is simply sensational,” says Jordan at one point. 

Jackie Stewart and Kennedy are among the names to have claimed that if you can do the business at Mondello then you can do it anywhere. 

That seems to hold good for two wheels as well as four. Joey Dunlop, for one, graced the same spread, but it is the stories behind the races that hit home. 

One of the best is told by two-time TT winner Eddie Laycock who hitched from Dublin as a teenager and slept in a storeroom full of hay bales for the corners — and mice — so he could stretch his first visit into a second day.

Alan Dukes, the former Fine Gael minister, shared how he had been one of the estimated 10-15,000 people who turned up for the grand opening in ’68 and, along with his wife and parents, broke out a picnic with red wine on a patch of grass behind what is now the main grandstand. 

That sense of community and family filters through the 60 minutes.

It’s a story that is handled as expertly as any car or bike that was ever gunned around the track, and one that is far more than just a sports story.

“That’s the goal, that it speaks to people who aren’t into their motorsport,” says O’Carroll. 

“It’s about human stories, ultimately.”

More on this topic

Culleton extends lead with impressive win in SkibbereenCulleton extends lead with impressive win in Skibbereen

Paddon and Breen back in the WRC spotlight in FinlandPaddon and Breen back in the WRC spotlight in Finland

Funeral of rally driver killed at weekend to take place todayFuneral of rally driver killed at weekend to take place today

Hamilton triumphs after French GP masterclassHamilton triumphs after French GP masterclass

More in this Section

Eintracht Frankfurt striker Sebastien Haller set to undergo West Ham medicalEintracht Frankfurt striker Sebastien Haller set to undergo West Ham medical

Leinster announce first-ever double-header between men's and women's teamsLeinster announce first-ever double-header between men's and women's teams

Kompany set team-mates Champions League goal in his Man City farewellKompany set team-mates Champions League goal in his Man City farewell

Ben Dawson preparing Newcastle players for arrival of new boss in ChinaBen Dawson preparing Newcastle players for arrival of new boss in China

More by this author

A county now ready to cut loose after years of setbacksA county now ready to cut loose after years of setbacks

Experience against the big boys has stood to LaoisExperience against the big boys has stood to Laois

Hey Rory, you are missing one hell of a party in LahinchHey Rory, you are missing one hell of a party in Lahinch

Man United have become a stinking messMan United have become a stinking mess


Lifestyle

It's hard to build a reputation in gaming, but it can be even harder to keep one.Game Tech: Dragon Quest Builders sequel builds on first outing

Tea dunking is not just for cosy winter evenings. Biscuits are handy in the summer months for picnics or to keep you going on long hikes.Michelle Darmody's tricks for perfect home made biscuits

Apply sunscreen throughout the day, says Helen O’CallaghanBurning issue: Children's skin needs added protection from the sun

Skincare guru Dr Raj Arora explains how this cleansing technique can make a big difference.Why you should follow the 60 second rule when washing your face, according to an expert

More From The Irish Examiner